It was The Rolling Stones who once asked listeners for sympathy for the devil. Don’t Breathe 2 pursues that similarly. Asking viewers to feel any ounce of emotional guilt for Stephen Lang’s The Blind Man is difficult after the events of Don’t Breathe. But that is the direction director Rodo Sayagues goes. A passing of the baton from director to director should offer up some difference in visual style or story competency. Not here. The identical opening shot, the movement down the road with the high-pitched squeals of the horror genre soundtrack. It all lingers unlovingly, and Don’t Breathe 2 is just that. A completely unloved feature that has little to offer that can take this character beyond anything the first film offered.
That is not to say Don’t Breathe 2 is not a noticeably improved film than the first. If anything, there is a grander variety to the horror on display. An approved viewing of the chase scenes and bumps in the night, but with a higher quality of tension that works even before the characters have been introduced or spoken to. Lang’s appearance is ghoulish, which is just the right tone to set for this sequel. Sayagues does not address the issue of his actions in the first film, or at least, when he does it is not nearly as convincing as it should be. A human side is shown to the war veteran villain, but his turn towards anti-hero is a sudden one and unpredictable, even after the events of the first film. Still, Lang is a dab hand for these moments and portrays The Blind Man with an open confidence, far greater than that of his first outing as the character.
If Sayagues’ only intention was to improve the lead character, then audiences can mark Don’t Breathe 2 as a success. It hits all the same notes as the first film but from a different and knowable perspective. The Blind Man realising he is a bad man is no great leap. Why it is played up as an emotionally horrific aspect of growth in Don’t Breathe 2 is strange. After the events of the first film, it is hard to take him all that seriously as a sudden hero. His actions still do not feature any grand consequences. He is put through the wringer as he falls through glass, burns down greenhouses and tries to protect those he is now close to. It is hard to feel sympathy for him as a leading character though, for audiences will no doubt remember the unsolved horrors of the first film.
Don’t Breathe 2 will struggle to convince audiences to hold their breath for a third instalment, despite minor improvements over the original. Lang is a strong performer; his leading choices are questionable. Madelyn Grace’s supporting role as Phoenix is decent enough, although there are moments where her character is undervalued and adapted poorly. That is the consistent case for this Sayagues feature. His direction may be solid, but it is interchangeable with that of Fede Alvarez, who took on the first feature. Different stories may be woven, but they are still using the same corrupt character who it is certainly hard to feel sympathy for.